THE editor (Aunty) said I had to write down my first impressions of Wonthaggi because she needed one more story for the Post. I said I couldn’t write but she said that didn’t matter, just to put down the things I’d noticed since arriving about a month ago. And to get it down quickly because soon it will all start to feel normal and I won’t notice. So here goes, in no particular order:
Language difficulties ...
The first week we were here I went to the fish and chip shop and asked for two pieces of fish.
“Flake?” the woman said. I didn’t get what she was saying. “Do you want flake?” she repeated.
“No,” I said, “I want fish.”
Even the chips were difficult. I asked for a scoop of chips.
“Do you want a bucket?”
A bucket of chips? Even my dad can’t eat that much. Then she pointed at this little cardboard cup. That was a bucket and it cost $6.
It was doing my head in. I said “It’s OK thanks” and went to the supermarket and bought some frozen fish and chips and we cooked it in the oven.
A couple of weeks ago I started work at Bean’d café. I’ve never worked in a café before so the first week I worried about all the things I had to remember: lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, flat whites – then someone asked for a mugachino. “What is that?!” I asked. It turned out he just wanted a mug of cappuccino. The coffee here is really good. People take it seriously. We’re so busy but everyone works together and it’s a lot of fun.
My workmates like practising their Kiwi accent on me. They say “Chur, bro!” I had to explain that we don’t really say that. It’s “Chur, cuz!”
In Melbourne I didn’t stand out but when I got to Wonthaggi I soon noticed I was the only brown person in the place. It’s so different from home! Aunty says there are other brown people, they all work at the hospital and everyone will assume I’m a new doctor.
When I met Mark, my new neighbour, he said “Are you Maori?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Please don’t hurt me!” he said, and put up his hands. He cracked me up.
I was telling my dad. He said “Tell him it’s not the daughter he has to worry about, it’s the father.” You have to know my dad to know why that’s funny. He’s a skinny Pakeha (white guy) called Hamish.
People here are comical. There’s a constant parade of dogs and their owners walking past my house. So many eccentrics in a small place. No one is normal. I like that. People have been really welcoming. My favourite so far is Dave the bike man. He’s really cool. His whole house is filled with partially built bikes, even the kitchen. I don’t know where he eats.
On my dad’s birthday, he said I had to buy him a drink so we went to the hotel with the whale jawbones. There was an old feller in there betting on every race. He lost every time. He’s going “F… this!”, “F… that.” The barman says, “Steady on, mate, watch your language, there’s a female in the room.” The old feller goes, “She’s not a female, she’s a New Zealander!”
I thought Kiwis were crazy about sport but Aussies are something else. Too much Dustin Martin. Every night on the TV news, every day on the front page of the newspaper. I’m over him! I watched a game of Aussie rules but it was so messy. Perhaps next year I’ll understand it better …
My first week here we went for a walk in the Gurdies. I’m driving down the Gurdies road just on dusk. Aunty says “Look out for kangaroos and be ready to stop.” I'm thinking,“Yeah sure,” and suddenly there’s a huge kangaroo in the middle of the road, just staring at us. It was like he was put there on purpose. He hopped into the bush and as we passed the spot where he’d been we saw a dead kangaroo on the side of the road. I learnt my lesson.
Another evening we went up to the end of Reed Crescent to see the kangaroos. They were racing the horses in a paddock next to the reserve. They’re so graceful when they run. I’ve seen wallabies at Cape Woolamai and some crazy birds: kookaburras, lorikeets, white cockatoos, galahs.
I haven’t seen a snake yet. We don’t have snakes or anything poisonous at home, so I think it will freak me out. But I’m sort of looking forward to it too. Aunty says it’s not the snakes I have to worry about, it’s the ants. We saw some mean huge ones with bright blue tails in the Gurdies.
I love the way you can go to the beach after work. On Wednesday night we went for a bike ride on the rail trail. We were on Aunty’s old bikes that she found at the tip. At home it would have been shame, but no one seems to care here. We were only going to go as far as the Dalyston bridge but we just kept going. Another five minutes, oh well, we might as well go and see the kangaroos, another five minutes … and suddenly we were at Kilcunda. As you come up the hill, there’s a view of the swell crashing against the cliffs. The sun was setting. It was so beautiful. We’d earned it after the bike ride. By the time we got back to Wonthaggi, we were riding by moonlight.
I was telling my workmates the next day and they’re like, “Where’s that?” “How far?” None of them had been on the trail! The chef said he felt inspired to go for a bike ride when he got home from work that night.
We’ve walked at Cape Woolamai and along the trail from Punchbowl to Kilcunda. Those cliffs are mean as. The sea is a different colour. It seems like a much darker blue. And I love the sunsets. I’m not sure why it’s different but the sky lights up here. It blazes.